Want to recover as quickly as possible from every workout? A hot tub could be your new best friend.
Whether you like to exercise to stay in shape or you’re a serious athlete trying to eke out every advantage you can in the lead-up to a big event, you might be surprised by how effectively a dip in a home spa can help you achieve your fitness goals.
Whether you’re looking to fast-track your warm up for an exercise routine, speed up your post-workout recovery, or get back to your best as fast as possible after a particularly intense workout, a hot tub session can work wonders.
Here’s a closer look at each of the science-backed ways a hot tub can help you recover from your last workout and prepare for your next.
Hot tub muscle recovery after a workout
Did you know studies have shown that hydrotherapy – also known as hot water therapy – boosts recovery rates after exercise and reduces fatigue?
In fact, soaking in a hot tub for just twenty minutes will dilate your blood vessels, improve your blood flow, and raise your core body temperature. This will help move inflammatory substances like lactic acid away from your stiff joints and sore muscles, helping you recover faster.
Plus, immersing yourself in hot water has been shown to release heat shock proteins, which promote muscle growth. That means a short hot tub session after each trip to the gym can even help you build muscle if you’re looking to bulk up.
Research has also revealed that massage after exercise effectively prevents delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). And today’s top-end hot tubs are fitted with powerful massage jets that can replicate the petrissage (kneading, knuckling and wringing), effleurage (gentle, flowing strokes), and tapotement (rhythmic tapping using the edges of the hands) strokes a professional masseuse would use to relieve your tight muscles.
That means hitting your hot tub and the turning the massage jets up to max is your ticket to a DOMS-busting massage that will help prevent soreness after each of your workouts.
Combining hot tub heat therapy with powerful massage jets will also release endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller, which will help aid the recovery process and help you overcome muscle soreness.
A Coventry University study from 2021 even shows that slipping in your hot tub can improve your cardiorespiratory fitness, vascular health, and glycemic control to a similar degree as exercise. While soaking in your home spa doesn’t replace exercise (it won’t help you build muscle or stamina or improve your technique), it’s great to know you’re getting a bit of a fitness boost every time you slip into your spa.
Of course, the best part of all is how enjoyable taking a dip in your hot tub is. Most things we do to get the most from our workouts, like protein shakes and stretching routines, aren’t exactly things we’d be doing if we didn’t have to. But soaking in a home spa is a totally different story – and the fact it’s scientifically proven to help your muscles recover after exercise is the cherry on top.
Is a hot tub better than an ice bath for muscle recovery?
Ice baths have long been used by professional and aspiring athletes alike to boost recovery rates and improve performance. But they’re hardly the most enjoyable thing in the world.
And incredibly, research into the effect temperature has on recovery rates after exercise has started to suggest a cold plunge might not actually revitalise your muscles as much as a luxurious soak in a home spa.
In fact, a 2017 study into whether cold or hot treatment provided the best muscles recovery concluded that “skeletal muscle recovery from fatigue-induced by endurance exercise is impaired by cooling and improved by heating, due to changes in glycogen resynthesis rate”.
Here’s that in English: soaking in a hot tub after a workout is not only a lot more pleasant than shivering in an ice bath or plunging into a freezing cold shower – it’s also a more effective way to recover from a workout.
What’s more, a 2016 study of how effective ice baths are for muscle recovery concluded that cold water immersion is no more effective than a ten-minute cool down on an exercise bike at reducing the inflammatory and stress responses in your muscles after resistance exercise.
So, instead of reaching for the cold tap and the ice cubes, grab a protein bar or chocolate milk to replace the lost carbohydrates and hop into your hot tub for a revitalising soak. Amazingly, your muscles will actually recover faster.
Soaking in your hot tub to warm up for a workout
In an article for the NFL, Brett Fischer, a strength and conditioning specialist who has worked for the New York Jets, the PGA & Senior PGA TOUR, and the Chicago Cubs, says he believes the best use of a hot tub is to help warm up the muscles a few hours before a workout.
A hot tub soak will dilate your blood vessels and literally warm up your muscles, getting you warmed up for a workout while you simply sit back and relax.
This is a particularly effective way to warm up before exercise on winter days, when it not only takes longer to get your muscles going, but having to head out into the cold can detract even the most dedicated of athletes from heading out. Get straight out of your hot tub into your workout clothes instead and you’ll reap the benefits of increased blood flow and warm muscles before you’ve even laced up your running shoes.
Just be sure not to overdo it if you use your hot tub to warm up for a workout, as soaking for any longer than twenty minutes could dehydrate you – the last thing you want before you exercise. So, be sure to drink plenty of water before and after a hot tub warm up to stay hydrated.
Unlocking a better night’s sleep after a workout with a hot tub
A good night’s sleep is key for recovering from an intense workout, and the amount of slumber you regularly get is a huge factor in your athletic performance.
Sleep is so essential for amateur and professional athletes alike because it’s when growth hormones – which stimulate muscle growth and repair, bone building, and fat burning– are released.
It’s also when neural pathways are built in your brain and muscle memory develops. If a tennis player spends a hard training session practicing their serve, it’s during their deepest REM cycles that the technique they’ve spent the day honing becomes automatic. To permanently lock in improvements you make to your form and technique in a sport, you need to follow up an intense practice session with a long, deep sleep.
Unsurprisingly, research shows that sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce reaction time and cognitive function, as well as affect mood, in professional athletes. A clear link has been drawn by researchers between poor sleep and poorer athletic performance and even a higher risk of injury.
What’s more, a study that followed the Stanford University women’s tennis team for five weeks as they attempted to get ten hours of sleep each night revealed that the athletes that increased their sleep time ran faster sprints and hit more accurate tennis shots than they did when getting their usual amount of sleep.
Another study of the Stanford men’s and women’s swim teams and men’s basketball team showed that getting extra sleep over several weeks improved performance, mood, and alertness for athletes.
So, the science suggest that getting plenty of sleep each night can boost your sports performance as much as poor night’s sleep can ruin it.
Luckily, yet another of the health benefits of a daily dip in a hot tub is that it can help you fall asleep soundly every night, with a study of insomniacs revealing that soaking in hot water before bedtime leads to deeper, more restful, and more continuous sleep.
So, slip into your home spa before bedtime for the best chances of drifting off into a peaceful sleep that will leave you feeling recovered from your workout (and wire in muscle memory).
The final word
Whether you’re just an average Joe or Joanna who likes to keep fit or a professional athlete training for a big event, a hot tub can be surprisingly effective at helping you recover from exercise.
The science shows that a luxurious soak in your hot tub will not only help you recover from exercise more effectively than freezing in an ice bath, but it can also help you warm up before a workout and get a recovery-boosting deep sleep.
If you’re after the perfect hot tub to help you support you on your fitness journey, be sure to pick up a free copy of WhatSpa? magazine, where you’ll find our advice on picking the perfect hot tub to suit your needs and our shortlist of the current Best Buys on the market.
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I am the Editor-in-Chief at WhatSpa? Media Group and have been actively involved in the hot tub and swim spa industry for over 20 years. I fell in love with hot tubbing in 2002 and since then have dedicated my career to helping millions of hot tub buyers to make more informed choices when navigating their buying journey.